Brave New World (The Star)
12 June 2013
To earn the respect and trust of the people, the police should act as professional defenders of the law with the confidence to be monitored by an independent body.
ACCORDING to Section 3 of the Police Act, the Malaysian police are there for the “maintenance of law and order, the preservation of the peace and security of Malaysia, the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension and prosecution of offenders and the collection of security intelligence”.
There is nothing in the Act to suggest that the duties of the PDRM are listed in order of importance, but surely it was not chance that has “the maintenance of law and order” as first on the list.
It is only by upholding the law that the police obtain their moral authority to do what they do.
Policemen, both men and women are citizens like us, but they have powers beyond any one of us.
If I wondered around town carrying a gun, apprehending people, locking them up and interrogating them, then I am likely to get done in for possession of a dangerous weapon, kidnapping, false imprisonment and assault.
Not so our men and women in blue.
And the distinction between them and me is that they are authorised by the law to do what they are doing and they are, supposedly, bound by the rules of the law when they do these things.
If there is no respect for the law on their part, then there is absolutely no difference between them and any other ordinary gun-totting criminal or kidnapper.
All the duties that they have, as covered under the Police Act, therefore, must be carried out in accordance with the law.
We are not living in a cheap movie world where the cops have some sort of divine authority to do whatever they want to fight crime.
But sometimes one has to wonder whether the police themselves are actually aware and have knowledge of this.
There have been too many incidents recently, some more horrific than others, which raises the question as to whether our police understand that they are not above the law and are actually subject to it.
What makes it all the more frustrating is that there is no independent body such as the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to help us answer these questions.
Sure, action has been taken against some police officers who are suspected of having broken the law and committed heinous acts.
As an example, the charging for murder of the three policemen involved in the Dhamendran death while in custody case.
However, this is merely a reaction to a single such incident when surely the sheer number of such cases proves that the problem is already systemic.
As the old saying goes “who watches the watchmen?”
The need for an IPCMC is now so very urgent, not only to ensure the good behaviour of the errant individuals who are supposed to be the upholders of the law, but also to ensure that the police – men and women who do their jobs professionally and well are not tarred with the same brush.
We have reached a stage where if the police want the respect and trust of the people, then they have to stop being belligerent and defensive.
Instead of acting like lawless cowboys, they should act as professional defenders of the law and with confidence.
They must allow themselves to be monitored by an independent body.
As they are so fond of telling us, “If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear”.
But apart from having a change in the system to make the police more accountable, there must also be a more wide spread change in the mind-set.
The law is meant to embody certain ideals of the society.
Ideals such as: a person is innocent until proven guilty; that there is a due process in order to avoid the wrong person being convicted; that there are certain civil liberties that citizens have so that they may live with dignity in peace and that everyone has the right to be free from fear (from criminals and from the authorities).
If the police do not respect these ideals, ideals which are from the society that they are meant to serve, then just what is it that they are doing their jobs for?
If it is only a crime-free society we want, we can always have the police armed to the teeth, going around as judge, jury and executioner, killing anyone they suspect as being a law breaker, but truly, is that the society we want to live in?
Is that the society our fellow citizens, the men and women of the PDRM, want to live in? I fervently hope not.